Love and Grooming 3
By Lou Blodgett
There were quite a few items stacked next to the computer station on my desk. A pack of dried octopus that had been placed on the shelf the day the store opened, and found later behind some cans of Starkist. Someone had tried to buy it, but wasn’t allowed, since the product had been discontinued three years before. Shrek Macaroni and Cheese that had been found in a space between shelves five years ago, and had to have fallen there sometime before the turn of the century. And a box of Oateeos that had two tickets to a showing of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ inside. No one had bought it, because no one had the guts to open the package. I placed the nosehair trimmer on top of the pile, and Clarissa and I stood there looking at it.
“So now it just sits there, gathering dust.” Clarissa said.
“A place of honor,” I told her. “Some things eventually find their resting place. It’s something that one learns, eventually.”
Then, there was a beep. The nosehair trimmer inside the plastic package had awakened, and a spot on the control display began to blink a dark blue. Clarissa stepped towards the desk, her hand reaching back and forth with indecision. Then she snatched it up. She turned to me, and the trimmer beeped again.
“Yah! It changed.”
“Of course it did,” I told her. “It’s alive.”
“No. No…” she said. She gave me an ‘observe’ nod, and slowly turned the pack. It beeped again, and, this time, I saw the display change. Clarissa pointed toward a corner of the stock room.
“It points that way.”
She turned the pack again. It beeped twice, and began blinking from the top of the display. Clarissa took a step to the side, placing herself behind the trimmer. She tucked the pack to her stomach and began to walk slowly, with an excited, sheepish look to me.
We wove around some freshly delivered pallets toward the janitor room. I had a feeling that it wouldn’t be the final destination. At the entrance of the janitor room, adjacent to the refrigerated room, the trimmer went nuts- blinking and beeping- and Clarissa followed its every command. At the base of steel stairs running up to the boiler room, the trimmer gave off two beeps and the center, the on/off switch part of the display, began to blink. Clarissa nodded to me, and I followed her up the stairs. The trimmer stopped blinking from the center, and started to blink from the side of the display again.
I’d never been to the upper level of the warehouse in the Sooper Dooper before, because I’d never had a reason to be there. At the top of those dirty steel stairs was the HVAC control room. It was clearly marked with signs saying that access was limited to authorized personnel only. There was plenty of red, yellow and orange markings, along with one sign with the international logo of a stick figure freshly maimed and shocked, blood spurting and lightning bolts in proliferation. Clarissa paused, jutted her head toward the door, and the display, and then turned and grimaced to me. I shrugged. She tried the handle of the door and it gave. We went in.
We didn’t say much as we entered the room, which was good, because we wouldn’t have heard much of what the other was saying, there was such a guttural, sparking hum. In that dimly lit, small room there was just a set of control panels, with several access doors with handles, displays and dials. And it was dusty. Not home-dusty, but dusty with a sort of dust that you contact the class-action lawyer group about decades later. In one corner there was what could be found in several places downstairs. One of those mysterious steel rectangles, some sort of machine in itself, glowing orange down the middle. Clarissa paused, then turned slowly toward it. We both kept an eye on the trimmer/direction finder. What with the loud, dangerous hum all about, I could barely hear what the trimmer did at that point, but the entire display blinked twice, and it gave off a series of beeps. She stopped and turned.
“THIS IS IT.” Clarissa half-shouted, pointing to the panel of mystery. “THIS IS WHERE IT WANTS US TO BE.”
“HOW DO YOU KNOW?”
She answered only with a condescending look.
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW YOU GET THAT,” I told her.
“THAT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE A BOOMER.”
How dare she.
“AND PROUD OF IT,” I said. “THE BEATLES RULE.”
Again, she gave me a chiding look.
“WE DON’T HAVE TIME TO GET INTO THAT RIGHT NOW.” She paused, and cleared her throat. Having to talk real loud in a dusty room was bringing some wear and tear to my throat also. “YOU PROBABLY JUST REMEMBER WHEN PRINTED CIRCUITS CAME OUT, BUT MEANWHILE, I WAS IMPRINTING ON THEM.” Clarissa paused and cough-cleared her throat. “IT WAS LIKE I COULD GET INTO THOSE CALCULATORS AND THOSE HAND-HELD GAMES. THE BLINKING LIGHTS AND BUZZERS- THOSE SIMPLE DISPLAYS- SPOKE TO ME.”
She looked to the trimmer, then turned it, in its package, to face me.
“AND THIS GUY’S TELLING ME THAT’S THE PLACE.”
She pointed to the corner with her other hand, which held the Munchins pack.
We both paused and cleared our throats. Clarissa stepped forward to investigate the glowing panel, and I followed her out of solidarity. The panel disappeared, and a door appeared in its place. Or so it seemed at first. As I realized what had really happened, Clarissa tottered and put a hand against the wall beside her. I reached for her, and she shook her head at me; what I was about to do was totally unnecessary. The panel had spun us around. I could see its orange glow on the door before us, and I got a bit dizzy at that point, too. We turned, looked at the panel, then Clarissa turned to me. She jerked her head toward the door, gave me a quick confiding wink, and we both got the hell out of there.
We walked onto the steel landing above the warehouse, and what I saw nauseated me. Clarissa went down a step and paused. I raised a hand and told her,
Clarissa didn’t know why I was talking dates, but had to clear some things up.
“No! Remember all those pallets? They’re gone.”
We both checked our phones, but they weren’t connecting. That indicated little, though. Clarissa knew she was grasping for straws, standing there on the first step down, with her next statement.
“They could be out on the floor.”
“Not at 10 am.”
We both crept on the outside of the stairwell on our way down, as if what was missing- the empty space where the pallets were- was a threat. After what had happened to us in the boiler room. Which we still didn’t know what. Things were quieter at the base of the stairs.
“Let’s check the floor.”
I followed her out into the shop.
It was nearly empty, at mid-morning, and Clarissa and I quickly gravitated to where we’d first met, in pets, near health and beauty. There, we bumped into Peato, who was beside a worker sprucing up a display of paper towels. Peato spied the trimmer in Clarissa’s hands, and I thought we were in for a reading of the riot act, but, instead, he said:
“Taking advantage of our one-day sale?”
I looked close at Peato. And what I could see was nothing. No recognition, no echo of our squabble in his office fifteen minutes earlier. Then he spied the Munchin packet next to the trimmer in Clarissa’s hands.
“Hey,” he said. “Those have been recalled! I thought we got all those off the floor. I’ll have to…”
He reached for it. Clarissa pulled everything back, having obviously gotten the same vibe I had about Peato and the entire situation on the floor.
“We go.” I muttered to her. We backed away.
“There’s a fresher lot…” Peato walked toward us, taking care of business; taking charge. We turned and ran away.
“Hey!” Peato shouted. “I can’t have you buying those Munchins!”
I loped toward the stock room, but felt Clarissa lagging behind. I threw a comment over my shoulder.
“We have to go back.”
We trotted down a main aisle, arguing. I looked back at her and could see Peato and associate striding purposefully around the corner with concerned looks on their faces.
“We’re in a bad place!” I shouted to her. “If we don’t get back, we may be stuck here!”
She rushed ahead, and found her way blocked by a tall pallet of incoming Bounty paper towels. I followed her on a detour; the pet aisle which ran parallel to the one we were just in. Clarissa slowed, but it was not out of indecision. Oh, no. She tipped boxes of cat litter off the lower shelf and into the aisle as she went forward, blocking Peato’s way. We spun into another side aisle.
“Okay, but there may be no ‘back’.” Clarissa said. “We might just go to another bad place.”
“That’s true!” I shouted, but our joint intent continued, on a detour through dairy. As we entered that large, refrigerated aisle there was a rattling. An associate was making a ‘U Turn’ with an empty hand-jack, and we sprinted down the cool aisle hopscotching over the forks. Clarissa said,
“We could wind up nowhere. Or in some Taco Bell.”
We hopped and pranced over the forks like ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. I was also considering Clarissa’s theories. She had more to say. I couldn’t. I was losing my breath.
“It might not work the same way!” Clarissa argued. “They might find us up there bouncing off that machine like moths bopping against a light bulb!”
We took the second wind from the cool skip through dairy, and the “Bravo” uttered by the bemused hand-jack pilot, and spun ourselves into the stock room.
“All true!... But I think we have to try….” I said. Clarissa beat me up the stairs.
I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a gathering of four or five perplexed associates watching us from the base of the stairs as I followed her into the boiler room. She paused and sighed, looking at the contraption, then we stepped side by side toward it, into white light.
My way was blocked by a smooth rail just up to my belly, but I was glad something was there to keep me in place. I didn’t know where I was. I was momentarily blinded. Clarissa was behind me, leaning into some glinty mesh, caught up in it. I turned to help her, and bumped into it myself. There was a parking lot beneath our feet, and we were both leaning into a shopping cart. Clarissa scooped up the trimmer she’d dropped into it, and, with a second thought, retrieved the still half-bag of Munchins. I blocked the sun from my eyes and looked around. We both were smack-dab in the middle of the Sooper Dooper parking lot, wedged amongst carts in the cart corral. Clarissa now had trimmer and Munchins in one hand, and her phone in the other.